The Turkish riot police, on August 20, used water cannons and tear gas bombs to brutally suppress Kurdish protesters, who were demonstrating against the government’s decision to remove three Kurdish mayors on August 19. The mayors represented the Kurdish-majority cities of Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van in southeast Turkey, and belonged to the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP).
In the city of Diyarbakir, police were seen using high pressure water cannons on small groups of protesters, who attempted to join and stand together in a bid to protect themselves. They were also seen making victory signs with their hands.
Some protesters had gathered near the Diyarbakir municipal building, which was sealed off by metal barriers. Videos emerged of riot police brutally beating them up. Several journalists who were covering the protests were also physically assaulted with batons and tear gas. The police even used plastic bullets to crack down on the demonstration.
Reports indicated the presence of over 500 riot police personnel, meant to contain the roughly 200 Kurdish protesters who had gathered there. The police reportedly attacked them with batons as they tried to flee the area. Armored vehicles were also seen at the site of the protests, serving as a backup for riot police.
Several pro-Kurdish HDP lawmakers who were part of the protests ended up with injuries. Deputies Feleknas Uca and Ayse Acar Basaran were among those who were injured, while deputy Ahmet Sik was also severely assaulted by police. Another lawmaker was reported to have collapsed on the ground following the attack by riot police. The injured were subsequently taken to hospital.
Around the municipality, the Elazig and Lise streets were later closed to traffic by police. The HDP leader, Sezai Temeli, told reporters, “You can see here today a regime of pressure and persecution. We will continue to resist wherever we are because resistance is our legitimate right.”
In the city of Van, police were seen beating up a young protester with their clubs, repeatedly kicking him and striking him on the head. A clip of this incident has caused shock and outrage on social media. HDP deputy Ahmet Sik shared the video on Twitter with the caption, “If you want to know what fascism is, what barbarism is, watch this.”
Faşizm nedir? Barbarlık nedir? Öğrenmek isterseniz izleyin: https://t.co/HMYqWyT0VL
— ahmet şık (@sahmetsahmet) August 21, 2019
Turkey had removed the mayors after accusing them of various crimes, including being part of a terrorist organization and spreading terror propaganda. These accusations have been categorically denied by the HDP. The three mayors were elected to their respective mayoral seats in the elections that were held in March. Diyarbakır mayor Selcuk Mizrakli received 63% of the votes, Mardin mayor Ahmet Turk received 56%, and Van mayor Bedia Ozgokce Ertan received 54% of the total votes.
Turkey had, on Monday, also detained at least 418 people across 29 provinces in the country, on suspicion of links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and other armed Kurdish groups.
Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, who himself had to win his mayoral seat a second time after his original election was nullified, strongly condemned the removal of the three mayors. He warned against the dismissing of mayors who belonged to the main opposition parties in Turkey. “The will of the nation is very important. Ignoring the will of the nation is a very big mistake… I condemn the dismissals and stand against it,” he told media.